|Monsieur Laurent inherited the building from his sainted mother.|
Dubzek’s apartment, completely unlike the cheerful chalet at the park, was a study in the macabre.
The walls were painted black, the wallpaper was charcoal grey. African masks hung on the walls.
There were shrunken heads in curio cabinets, primitive weapons hanging on the walls. There was what appeared to be a genuine voodoo drum. When given a shake, it rattled with something inside, according to Maintenon this would be bloodstained chicken feathers.
There was a piano in the study, and more bells, whistles and flutes above the mantelpiece in the room, smelling heavily of bookworms and the passage of time.
“Gilles.” It was Fabian Oliver, their fingerprint man.
“Yes? What have you got?”
“So far, we have the prints of five distinct individuals. Assuming the deceased, and one set definitely looks like his, even at first glance, and then a maid, and then the priest…that leaves two more sets unaccounted-for. Also, one set is quite small.”
They all knew what it meant, of course. A midget, a dwarf, an unusually small woman—or a child.
The prints would be compared to samples from the nudist colony, and if they had even the slightest clue of exactly where to start on the rather voluminous files in the basement at the Qaui, eventually compared to those of a long list of known criminals.
“Is it all right if we open a window in here?”
He glanced at Sergeant Oliver.
“I’ll do them next, sir.”
“Okay. As soon as he’s done, you can open a window. Tailler.”
“Let’s see who else is home at this time of day.”
Notebook at the ready, Tailler followed him out the door, the inner knob of which had already been done, a mass of smears and finger-oils that would undoubtedly reveal much—and nothing.
|Inspector Gilles Maintenon.|
Seventy-one years old, Madame Danielle Hennequin had lived in the building for thirty-six years and the interior reflected that much. Not a smoker, there was still a thin film on the windows, probably from cooking and the fact she liked it warm. This was clearly her home, with a hundred pictures, all family portraits, on one wall of the salon. There was a parakeet eyeing them balefully from its cage and the twittering of budgies, who apparently were let out of the cage sometimes. They fluttered around, finally settling themselves down to watch the action from the top of the curtains.
Who are these fucking guys…???
There were the chintz curtains, lilies and irises and other flowers in vases. There was a crucifix and a picture of Jesus on the wall. Thinking of his own mother, Tailler wondered where the picture of the Virgin was—probably in the back hallway, outside of the actual bedrooms. Joseph making a fish trap, a cheap print, would be in the bathroom.
There was a faint and unidentifiable smell, and the signs of a cat or two besides.
The lady herself was tiny, less than five feet at a quick guess. One could follow the course of the conversation by the tempo of her knitting needles, first hot and then cold, first fast and then slow.
“Well. Thank you for speaking to us. How long have you known Monsieur Dubzek?”
“I suppose as long as he’s been here.”
The tone was slightly tart, an edge of patient humour evident. She looked up, briefly.
“Er, yes, of course.” Tailler was only stalled momentarily, having heard much worse over the years. “Would you say he was a quiet man? The door is right there. Could you hear him coming and going?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Tailler pretended to consult his notes as Maintenon and the Madame silently regarded each other, sharing some kind of unspoken bond that was denied to young people, or most of them anyways.
“Did he have a lot of company?”
“Not a lot, but some. Occasionally.”
“Did you ever meet any of them?”
“We were neighbours. He was always polite. I’ve never been in his apartment.”
“Ah. Had he ever been in here—”
She blushed a bit, hard to believe it still worked with that wrinkled skin, but she shook her head, and then reconsidered, her face coming up as she stared out the window. Her mind was still good and that was something.
“No, wait. He came in here one day when I needed something down from the cupboard over the ice-box.”
Old-fashioned, hardly anyone called it that anymore. Nowadays, it was a refrigerator. She had a kitchen-type ladder but at her age she was a bit creaky in the joints. To fall would be to lay on the floor all night until her help came in shortly after seven-thirty a.m.
“I heard him going out. This was just after he moved in here, and I thought, why not.”
Why not, introduce oneself and get an impression of the new neighbour. She didn’t actually say that, of course.
“Very well. Did he have a wife or a girlfriend, anybody like that?”
“Er. Not that I can think of—there were women, of course.”
|"Women? Oh, yes, there were women."|
“I see. What sort of, ah, woman?” Tailler was floundering.
Perhaps it was those beady if penetrating blue eyes, perhaps it was the budgies, twittering from above the window. It was also intolerably hot…
The lady frowned and a thin vertical line appeared above the bridge of the nose.
Tailler sought out Gilles for a quick and unspoken communication.
“Ah…when was the last time Monsieur Dubzek had company?”
“Hmn. I would say Thursday night.”
“Yes. Just before he went away for the weekend.”
Tailler nodded sharply.
“Any idea who it might have been…”
“No, but I heard the knock on the door and male voices…”
“How many voices?”
“Just the two of them.”
The fingerprints had been analyzed. The senior specialist, Sergeant Christiane Allard, had personally brought the report up to the squad-room. This was a tough industry, dominated by male arrogance, and she had worked her way up from beat-cop and the more usual policewoman duties, including some undercover work.
This was one tough and competent lady.
“…as expected, the fingerprints of the victim dominate both the crime scene and his home. We’ve identified those of Madame Roux in the cabin, and those of his cleaning lady, one Madame Paulette Boutin, who lives nearby and comes in twice a week to clean.”
Boutin had given the name of the priest and a few others. The priest was Father Bazin, a distant cousin of the victim.
Dubzek was apparently the sort of person who cooked for himself, or went out. Going by the contents of the kitchen drawers, the pantry and the refrigerator, the waste-basket, he might have been fairly competent in that regard.
The other thing was the pistol.
A 7.65 mm semi-automatic hand-gun had been found in his residence. His prints were on the weapon. The maid had said she knew about it, but thought nothing of it as it was nothing she hadn’t seen before.
The weapon was clean, it was loaded and the safety had been on. She was reading from other people’s notes at this point, and Maintenon and Tailler were listening intently, taking notes of their own.
“Now, for the photo album. There are a few prints, mostly the victim. One unidentified print is at least usable—if we ever get anything to compare it to.” The album had pictures of people fully clothed, for the most part, including a few fairly attractive women.
None of the photos were captioned, which was a problem. No names for the faces, in other words.
So Dubzek had shown the album to other people. There was, once again, nothing really pornographic in there, although there were nudes. These weren’t particularly artistic, just ordinary people going about their day at the nudist camp.
They had found three rolls of new, unexposed film and two that had been exposed. The police lab was developing those and would report as soon as possible.
What was interesting was a box of negatives and prints. Among them were pictures of Madame Boutin, fully-dressed and engaged in her household duties. The negatives were numbered, and there was a half-smile, perhaps due to the flattery, in an early exposure.
She seemed rather embarrassed in the pictures, but she was getting paid by the hour either way.
One could only imagine the conversation.
“Very well. Thank you.”
The sergeant nodded, putting her copies back into the file folder.
“If there’s anything else, let us know.” With a swish of skirt, she was out of the door and going down the hallway.
Maintenon looked at Tailler, just getting off the phone.
“Get a car. We might as well go back down there.”
(End of excerpt.)
Editor's note. This is a work in progress, with the first draft about half done. It's a bit thin in places and the story is still developing, which would be true in a real life investigation as well. If the reader is intrigued by the Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series, see the full list of titles here on Amazon.
Thanks for reading.